The Pennsylvania General Assembly has recently considered legislation regarding the expanded use of convict labor within the commonwealth. While the idea of using prisoners to perform work may be appealing on its face, the impact of such a proposal needs to be carefully considered so that any unintended consequences can be understood first.
A research paper published by Mr. Michael Pyker, titled, “Economic consequences of the U.S. convict labor system” (2018), provides significant insight on the result of the use of inmate labor, especially in local labor markets. Mr. Poyker’s research illustrates several negative consequences associated with the use of convict labor. The introduction of convict labor is directly related to significant slower growth in manfucaturing wages, lower labor-force participation and less employment in manufacturing than there would otherwise have been.
Further, the use of prisoner labor benefited the owners of manufacturing firms while working class citizens lost opportunity for upward social mobility between generations, simply because there were fewer opportunities for less well-off workers.
One clear example of the impact of convict labor involves Tennier Industries, an American military-clothing firm. In 2012, Tennier fired 100 workers because it could not compete with rivals employing convicts.
The use of inmate labor may seem to hold benefits initially, but the long term impact upon economies is negative. Lawmakers must be cautious when examining this issue. The readership of this newspaper would be wise to contact their representatives and senators to urge them not to support expanded use of convict labor within the commonwealth.
Charles Picarella Jr.
SCI-Benner Twp., Bellefonte